Monday, February 28, 2011

The Deprivation Diet
All The Gear All The Time
It's a good thing my bike is a babe magnet.
I climbed on the scale last week, and I think I saw that I had gained about four pounds during the past too many weeks of winter inactivity. I say “think,” because I wasn’t wearing my glasses and had to squat down to see the numbers on the scale. Riepe tells me that squatting down when standing on a scale adds pounds. Then again, he tells me that being in the same galaxy as a scale adds pounds.
Usually, during the cold months, I get exercise by splitting logs. It’s a macho, Paul Bunyan thing with me. I do it by swinging a heavy maul over my head and directing it home on weathered, “starred” logs.  Even on the coldest day I can work up a sweat in a few minutes and come away smelling like Babe, Bunyan’s Blue Ox.
This year the wet, cold, and ice started early and continued without let up. The pile of icy crap at the top of my driveway reached about seven feet early in the season. After two days of rain and a few of days of 40-degree weather and a few more of hitting close to 50, it now tops out at about four feet, and it’s ugly, dirty, snow, sticks, leaves, and yard junk.

My Inaccessible Wood Pile

My wood pile had been covered by snow and ice for weeks and until yesterday there was at least a foot of snow in the woods surrounding the wood pile. After yesterday’s 60-degree surprise, the foot of snow is now six inches of mud. Today the rains have returned, so there will be no wood splitting for a while.
This has also been a tough winter for motorcycle riding in my area. The roads have been covered with salt, gravel, ice, snow, and stupid, reckless people who drive while talking or texting on their cell phones.  Better weather can wash away salt and other natural crud, but distracted driving is probably here to stay.
House-bound by Mother Nature, most of my riding buddies have turned to other diversions, such as political commentary.  I’m amazed at how otherwise normal bikers (that’s the epitome of non sequitur) can morph into Reactionary Republicans, Demonic Democrats, Licentious Liberals, Piss Ant Progressives, or Tea Party Twits. There may even be some Cuddly Commies in the mix.
Personally, I’m pissed at all politicians. Yesterday I paid more than $3.50 a gallon to fill the tank on my motorcycle. I bought a loaf of French bread for $2.99, and I passed on the T-bone that was $6.99 a pound. I’m convinced that The White House and both houses of Congress have spent decades abdicating their responsibility. They have let us down to the point where both Rachel Maddow Liberals and Rush Limbaugh Conservatives share in the inflationary pain and initiative thwarting regulation.  Some Liberal is going to try to tell me that Conservatives share less in the pain because they have more assets, and some Conservative is going to allege that Liberals are all sucking up freebees at the trough. That’s bull shit!
Passion can be a good thing. Many I know are passionate about motorcycle riding or about spouses, kids, significant others, pets, goats, horses, other farm animals, or gerbils. I’m not convinced that some of the passion I see in political posturing today is healthy. I see a lot of vitriol and anger on TV, but I don’t see even a hint of it among my biker buddies. This brings me to an obvious suggestion – get out and ride. It will clear your head and your sinuses. The smells of Amish barnyards can have a healing effect. Stop listening to the bull shit on TV. Get out and smell some of the real stuff.
Ron Ye (Photo from previous ride when we stopped for lunch)
Ron Ye is a great riding buddy. He rides with confidence, knows lots of back roads, and always has a big smile on his face and an obvious positive attitude.  He’s even nice to Riepe.  Ron sent me an email last Sunday morning and mentioned that he was repairing the front brakes on his motorcycle and might be up for a ride if he finished the job.  He said he wanted to test his work.  I wrote back telling him that I was finishing up some honey-dos, but I would love to get out in the 60-degree weather with him as long as he wasn’t riding behind me with “iffy” home-handyman-repaired brakes.
Riepe would not be joining us today, as he was practicing standing on a scale without squatting.
Like many in the motorcycle community, Ron is involved with experimental drugs - only Ron’s involvement is legitimate. He works for a major drug company.  It was my intention to pump him for some useful information about keeping my weight down.  My family physician suggested that I eat less and exercise more; it seems that Washington, DC, is designing a similar plan for all Americans based on high fuel and food prices.
Ron and I met at the Wawa gas station across from Wegman’s, in Downingtown, at exactly 1:00pm. We decided to head out toward Gap, PA, on main roads, because we were concerned that the rain last week may not have cleared the road crap on less travelled paths. Also, Ron wanted to make sure that his brake repair work was solid.
The route was simple Route 30 to Route 113 North to the Route 30 Bypass and West to Gap.  The weather was perfect.  It was clear, cool, the sun was shining, and there was no wind.  Surprisingly, there was no congested traffic on the roads. There were cars on the bypass, but they were moving at a good clip. This being my first day out in about two months, I wanted to demonstrate some caution, and Ron needed to get used to his new found braking power. I think we kept our speed to within 20 or 30 miles of the limit. We even let one dufus in a minivan pass us.
As we pulled up to the traffic light at the end of the bypass, Ron said, “The brakes are working fine. Where do you want to go?”
“You lead, I’ll follow,” I said. “I still don’t want you behind me with your homemade brakes.”
So off we went down Route 30. We passed the Gap Diner where the food was acceptable 20 years ago, we blew past the diner that Gerry Cavanaugh said he and his buddy Buzz used to ride to. It was closed the last time we rode there, and today it was a pile of rubble. We rode past the Amish Smorgasbord places and tourist bus stops, several diners, a couple of ice cream places, and even blew by Jennie’s Diner, where they serve Riepe-ass sized pancakes and mouth-watering, artery-clogging pork products.
We turned South on Route 896 and passed a couple of other good, touristy Amish eating places. The weather continued to cooperate with bright sunshine, and there were lots of Amish horse-drawn wagons and horses and mules and cows in the fields. The smells and the changes in temperature as we moved from sun to shade and back into the sun were delightful.

My R1100R at Strasburg  Station

We turned East on Route 741 and rode past Isaacs Restaurant and the Strasburg Train Station, two of Riepe’s favorite stopping places. Travel was beginning to slow down a bit, because of the many Amish horse-drawn wagons going our way and the cars full of Amish watchers gingerly passing them.  At one point just as we came to the crest of a hill, we had to slow because a minivan (I hate those things) was apparently afraid to pass the horse-drawn cart. It was then that I heard a loud squeal of brakes behind me. When I looked in my mirrors I saw a Ford Mustang right behind me that had obviously stopped abruptly to avoid knocking me off of my motorcycle. Next time I lead!
When we reached Route 41, we headed south toward Oxford. That’s a nice ride; much of it is through “horse country.”  Then we picked up Route 1 North, and in the interest of time we hopped on Route 202, took that to 322, where I headed north and Ron headed south.
By the time I pulled into the garage, I had covered about 100 miles of mostly Pennsylvania back roads at a comfortable pace in about two hours and without stopping for food, coffee, or to take pictures. The only stops were at traffic lights, so I missed the opportunity to discuss dieting with Ron. Come to think of it, not stopping to eat while on a motorcycle ride is a good first step. - Snipe eBay items... and win!
Snipe eBay items... and win!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Motorcycle Addiction, Uncureable

Last week while talking with Jack Riepe and complimenting him about his recent articles in the BMW MOA Magazine, and on his blog, he dusted off his “critical prick” persona and reminded me that I have not written anything on my blog since last November.
For the record, weather here in the Northeast sucks. Cold and wet came early and forcefully and appear to be the new seasonal standard.  November riding days were few. December was brutal, and January has given us record-setting snow falls and weeks of below-freezing temperatures. Ice, salt, and pulverized chemical mash on the roads easily convince me to keep my motorcycle in the garage.
Snow and ice hanging on bowed tree limbs may be like a beautiful woman… a delightful sight, but perhaps especially dangerous when riding is part of the equation. 

Like a Professional Wrestler's Girl Friend, Winter can be beautiful and treacherous 

                            Ice, tree crap, and freezing rain in my driveway                         
 I hate to make excuses for not riding, but I’ve reached the stage of my life where once I’ve finished shoveling out my driveway, hot chocolate and a nap are more inviting than trying to navigate my BMW R1100R around cinders, salt, road scum, and black ice while staying out of the way of text-messaging teenagers who’ve had their license for a week or two.
Neither Riepe nor most of my other riding buddies are doing much riding this winter, so it’s hard to draft a truthful piece about a motorcycle trip. Although accuracy seldom stops me or Riepe from telling a good story, this got me to thinking about other themes, and my mind wandered back through a series of decades to my youth. I often think of my youth when my back hurts from shoveling snow or my knees ache from walking up and down the stairs, or if I see a cute, brainless woman with poodle skirt.
                                                          Brainless Woman In A Poodle Skirt.
                            (This and warm milk are definite turn-ons for History Channel buffs)
Those memories often remind me of when I could run up ten flights of stairs backwards to strengthen my legs for skiing. In those days,  I could work all week, drive all night, ski all the next day, and party all night before getting up to ski another day and drive 350 miles in a blizzard to get home. But that has nothing to do with motorcycles other than as it relates to the often mis-perceived invulnerability of youth. Maturity teaches that a slice of apple pie is much more appetizing than running up stairs backwards.
One of my earliest motorcycle memories is of a tall, long-legged, Swedish nanny.  Her eyes were the color of the sapphires you’d find in a Christmas catalog.

Swedish Nanny-Eye sapphire that fetched $1.3 million at Northerby's auction house.

Her tanned skin was like baby apricots just beginning to develop their sweetness.  Her long, blond hair would streak out behind her as she arrived at our country estate on her new 1936 BMW R3 with the smell of freshly-picked Edelweiss in her hair.

              Edelweiss found only in the Alps and on music boxes
Edelweiss really has no odor. I suspect if it did it would be close to mountain goat musk. But "the smell of Edelweiss in her hair," creates an interesting image even though it’s bullshit. Riepe taught me that.
Back to the story -
Today I can recall how my heart would quicken each time I saw her and how that molten licorice feeling would slide down my legs in anticipation of my  being transported to an ethereal dimension.
If my riding buddy Jack Riepe had written this he would have reached beyond molten licorice for a more colorful description – probably shades of burnt sienna.  Nevertheless, like most of Riepe’s tales there is perhaps a slim line of truth hiding among an overwhelming amount of bullshit. Well, maybe not this time when honesty could very well be on vacation.
The truth is that I was born in New York City, in the Borough of Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn. There was no country estate in our family. We once went to a park in Bayonne, New Jersey, that my Great Grandfather owned before the city condemned it and stole it from him.
One summer, my grandfather rented a cabana at Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn, which I vaguely recall as a place where it was difficult to walk on the hot sand without stepping on a human being. Today Brighton Beach is the stomping ground of the Russian mob. Stepping on Vladimir is punishable by severe stomping and instant disappearance.

Elegant Brighton Beach, where raw sewerage is often found floating among the human flotsam
The only motorcycle I can recall seeing in my youth was ridden by one the NYC’s finest, Officer O’Something-or-Other. All New York City policemen were Irish in those days, as were firemen, bar owners, most city workers – except for building inspectors, who were Italian and “connected.”
This mounted protector of mobile Sabrett hot dog stands and Good Humor carts could be found on any Sunday seated on his Indian motorcycle in the bushes across from Bay Ridge High School, a politically incorrect institution where typing and stenography were taught to teenage girls who “were going to get married anyway” and needed to know how to cook, clean, wash clothes, and have babies. They were offered only a thin layer of basic employable skills – Palmer Method Penmanship, Stenography, and Sinful Flirting.
Officer O’Something-or-Other was simply lying in wait for despicable criminals who were about to run the stop sign at the top of a hill on a cobble-stone street leading from the Belt Parkway to Fourth Avenue.
A team of vintage motorcycle officers emerging from their hiding place in the bushes.
On a wet day, there was no good way to stop at that intersection and then get going again. The hill was on a 45-degree angle, and when the cobble stones got wet they provided the traction of greased ice.
The good officer rode an Indian which is the only motorcycle I can remember having seen during my young and formative years. When I was a kid, there was a War on. There was The real war, The big one, WWII. Gas was rationed, so most people I knew took public transportation or walked. During the war, we kids didn’t have bicycles, the government said it needed the metal and rubber for the “war effort.” But after the war, we would ride our bicycles everywhere.
Our neighborhood was home to many famous people. Peewee Reese, and a few other members of The Brooklyn Dodgers, lived there, as did several infamous members of the Italian Waterfront Mob. These were the kindly gentlemen who ran the docks and the unions. None of them rode motorcycles.
Affluent good guys and the bad guys shared a preference for large, black Caddys, which brings me to the apocryphal story about Officer O’Something-or-Other.
It seems that this conscientious LEO made the mistake of ticketing one of the “made” guys who ran his pet stop sign. A few days later while screeching out of the bushes with his siren blaring and his lights flashing in pursuit of another stop-sign criminal, the good officer was broadsided by a large, black Caddy. It crushed his Indian and his ticket-writing hand before driving off – probably to New Jersey.
Years later, when I had my driver’s license, I knew I could coast right through that stop sign without fear of being ticketed.  The bushes covering the hiding place were overgrown, and everyone got a free pass thanks to the black Caddy guys protecting the personal freedom of scofflaws.
Many more years passed before I came across a motorcycle again. I was driving from New Jersey to Brooklyn across Staten Island. The officer riding the motorcycle waved at me, and I smiled and waved back. He was perched tall on a shiny large Harley. He looked very professional, spit and polish, sewn-in pleats in his shirt and pants, over the calf boots that could and did reflect the skyline of Manhattan. Then he turned on his flashing red lights and siren and waved at me again.
When we got to court, the judge asked him to recite his pedigree: ten years on the force, motorcycle school, traffic safety school, instructor, married to the Mayor’s brother, yada-yada-yada.
He came across as infallibly capable and honest. He looked like a movie star playing a Highway Patrol officer. He stood tall and straight as if he had rebar shoved up his ass. Trust and honesty oozed from every pore of his matinee idol face. Me, I was glad I wore a dark suit to court, because it would hide the sweat pouring out my armpits, and was sure to hide most of what I suspected I was about to deposit in my pants.
He described how he observed me tailgating another car, and how he pulled me over and gave me his especially reserved award for inadequate driving.  As he finished his recitation I thought my next stop would be The Big House.
The judge then turned a piercing, steel gaze in my direction and asked what I did for a living.  In those days I was a PR flack for an insurance company. Admitting that would done more damage to my case than if I told him I sculpted motorcycle cops out of petrified dog turds. So I explained that I was a clerk at a large company in New Jersey; I smiled shyly, shuffled my feet humbly, and tried to look penniless as I spoke. That last part wasn't difficult, since like the US Congress I was living far above my means.
The judge asked me why I was driving irresponsibly.  In the blink of an eye, a series of smart-ass answers shot through my brain. ...”I was practicing for the inadequate driving course… I was rushing to pick up the last hotdog at Nathan’s, in Coney Island, for a friend who was dying and not expected to last through the day…I was on a secret mission for The State Department, which would deny any knowledge of me or the secret mission… “
Smartass doesn’t work well in court. As a matter of fact, I have scars to prove that it doesn’t work well anywhere, so I carefully crafted a magnificent response designed to raise the question of “reasonable doubt” a phrase I had often heard on Gang Busters.
I’ve often said that the integrity one gleans from working in public relations occasionally has a pay off.
In the end, I was exonerated, paid not a dime in fines, and was set free on my own recognizance. Even the motorcycle cop gave me the thumbs up sign.

                                                     The armed LEO told me it was his thumb
I didn’t think about motorcycles again until the late 1980s when, like some famous and infamous Presidents, I was living in Illinois.
I learned that the Motorcycle Safety Federation (MSF) had a free course leading to a license. I mentioned that at dinner one night, and there was unanimous agreement by and my wife and my children that I was not to be allowed anywhere near a motorcycle. They felt that motorcycles are dangerous, and with great compassion they explained that they needed my income. Sometimes the realization of deep love smacks you in face like a wet bluegill. Other times it’s dropped on you like a 500 pound tuna. In this case I understood their point. I’m also embarrassed to admit I agreed, so I just shelved the motorcycle idea for a while.
It was the end of Summer 2004 – 14 years later. My good friend Bruce, who allegedly has ridden motorcycles since before he had pubic hair, mentioned that he was going to take the MSF course with his son, who was graduating from Penn State and wanted to ride with his Dad. Bruce, who is a true renaissance man, has never done anything half-way in his life. He admitted that he hadn’t had any formal training and thought it would be a good idea. That was all the encouragement I needed. I signed up for the MSF course at Valley Forge, PA. After all, at that point I had been married to the same woman for 36 years, the kids were on their own, and my life insurance was paid. The timing was perfect for a new adventure. If Washington’s Army could survive Valley Forge in Winter with no shoes, it should be a piece of cake for me at the end of summer with over the ankle boots.
The Motorcycle course involves classroom work and highly supervised riding on MSF course-provided motorcycles. Feeling sorry for the old guy (I was now in my 68th year) the kind people at the MSF course gave me a 3cc Suzuki to push around, and they let me borrow one of their sweaty helmets to wear with my ski gloves, chinos, and cherry-red golf jacket; I wasn’t even the worst dressed guy there. This was the first time I had ever put my butt on the seat of a motorcycle. It was great fun. It didn’t take much for me to get a buzz on and develop a real motorcycle Jones.
In an outstanding act of compassion the MSF Course granted me my license. Then I started shopping for a motorcycle.  I knew more about algebra than I knew about motorcycles. I barely passed algebra in high school and haven’t used it since. I’ve heard that the only people who use algebra and geometry beyond high school are carpenters, tile setters, and motorcycle rear-drive designers.
The weather was getting cooler and wetter, so I decided to wait until Spring to buy a bike. That gave me all winter to do research and figure out how the hell I was going to ride a motorcycle in traffic.
I called my friend Larry, who salvaged his first motorcycle from the Johnstown Flood. Now he owned a Yamaha Virago 1000cc, and had just designed and built a gyro copter with his own hands.  Larry gave me some solid advice, and I spent the rest of the winter searching the Internet looking for the best bike for a beginner. Two surfaced: the Yamaha 650 and the BMW F650.

Pre-Johnstown Flood Yamaha V Star 650

My Classic 1997 "Orlando Orange" BMW F650ST

I looked at postings on Cycle Trader, EBay, and other Internet sites. I found a 1997 BMW F650ST in California. It had less than 23,000 miles on it, and the photos with palm trees in the background made it look a lot better than it would have with Pennsylvania ice and snow as a backdrop. When I calculated shipping and handling, I came up with a final bid price, and I won the bike for $1,500, which was about ½ of what similar bikes were selling for at that time.
I was disappointed, but not very surprised, when the bike’s owner fell off the radar and disappeared. I shot a note to EBay. They told me to report him to the FBI (interstate fraud), which I did with great delight; I hate it when people try to screw with me. About two weeks later I received a pure bullshit, “tail between the legs” email saying he totaled the bike.  I replied suggesting that he avoid travelling through Pennsylvania.
Back to the drawing board, back to Cycle Trader, and EBay, and Craigs List.  Suddenly, there it was, almost the identical BMW F650ST, in Ligonier, PA. It had 13,000 miles on the Odometer and looked clean as it would have in a dealer’s showroom. The price was more in line to the real market. The guy who owned it had three Beemers and a Moto Guzzi, and all were spotless and well maintained. 

It was the end of February, and I was concerned about how to get it from near Pittsburgh to near Philadelphia. There was no way given my level of experience that I was going to ride it on the Turnpike in nice weather, let alone in February, while wearing my jeans, golf jacket, and ski gloves. He offered to deliver it to my house.
The bike arrived in early March. He took it out of his truck and rode it up my driveway and into the garage. I paid him and gave him a hot bowl of chili and walked out into the garage to admire my new purchase.  The Howard Johnson Orange-colored 650 sat there on a trickle charger during the “Spring” snow and ice storms.
In late March, when the six inches of ice at the bottom of my driveway had melted, I mustered enough nerve to roll the bike out of the garage and start it up. My darling wife, who knows me as well as anyone could, said, “You may not take that motorcycle out of the neighborhood.” Just run it to the corner stop sign, take left to the next stop sign, a left to the next stop sign, and keep doing that until you get good at it.”
My immediate thought was to respond with something like, “Shut up woman. You’re not the boss of me,” but macho gave way to fear, as is often the case in my house. Also, I was very grateful that she had given me a good reason to chicken out of hitting the road. Sometimes “She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed” is right.  Or perhaps after about 40 years of putting up with my bullshit, she knew I was chickenshit about riding and needed to ease into it. Either way, it was a good suggestion.
There were a lot of good lessons to learn. My neighborhood has some minor elevation changes, sewer grates, and man-hole covers that are good training devices for the inexperienced rider, so for a couple of weeks, I rode the circuit. One day I learned about the hazards of gravel and learned how to pick up an F650ST that was lying on its side case. Another day I learned how to duck when headed for that old pine tree that used to be at the top of my driveway. I learned that plastic milk cases are not a good place to put your foot when you’re backing the bike up into the garage.
The fellow who sold me the motorcycle suggested that I find a club in the area where I’d meet other riders and get some good advice. I began an Internet search, and The Mac-Pac popped as the SE Pennsylvania Riders Group. They let me come to breakfast even though I was wearing my red golf jacket and they all were decked out in Aerostich.
I had all of 350 miles riding experience when I joined the group’s first Rally with a covered bridge ride that terminated at the farm of one of the members. I remember Brian, who is the list administrator, riding behind me and telling me, “you did pretty well, except for the time you almost lost it going through a turn on gravel and sand.”
That ride led to more rides and to new friends and new adventures in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia, Delaware and Maryland, Tennessee, New York State, and Vermont. I’ve ridden on dry roads, in rain, on black ice (not good), and through pea-soup fog (also not good). But I’ve done it with a smile on my face and in the company of some very good friends.
About the Bike.

2007 BMW F800ST Delivery Day at Hermy's  (Photo by Herman Baver)
I loved the F650ST. I took it to Tennessee and all over the back roads of Pennsylvania, It was light and easily maneuverable. But, for me, it lacked speed in the low gears, so in 2007 I traded it in on a F800ST that was a powerhouse. It eventually went rock hunting and gave its life protecting mine.

Brave, Deceased F800ST

My current ride is a 2000 BMW R1100R, with the traditional Beemer opposing cylinders. It too is fun to ride. It does better in the low gears than the F650ST did, the stock seat and riding position are more comfortable on long rides than the F800ST seat, and it still has lots of speed, torque, and maneuverability.
2000 R1100R, Resting in Strassburg, PA, after tormenting The Amish

We’ve ridden more than 10,000 miles together in the past year and a half. I can’t wait for the weather to change, so we can get back out on the road again to explore new places and old with my riding buddies. - Snipe eBay items... and win!